The monthly jobs and employment report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics tomorrow will produce the usual claim and counter claim about the strength of the labour market and the economy. A weak report will produce colourful claims of doom and gloom, a moderate report will be treated disdainfully and ignored by sections of the media as their search for a fact or two to fit their view of the health of the economy.

For most of the mainstream media — including the ABC — it is now an accepted “truth” that the economy is in a bad way and the resources boom has busted and gloom and doom is on the way, if they haven’t already arrived to ruin the party.

Perhaps that’s why we have seen two examples in the past week of the media missing or partially reporting major speeches by senior economic regulators that went against the narrative on the Australian economy being pushed by the papers and other outlets.

Late last week, federal Treasury secretary Martin Parkinson made another major speech in Perth positing that the mining boom, while fading, hasn’t collapsed. He also repeated remarks on the need for changes to shore up the tax base and for the need for a debate on future funding of government, points that some media outlets picked up. Missing from media coverage was that the resources boom will be with us for years to come. The Sydney Morning Herald‘s economics editor, Ross Gittins this morning looked at the Parkinson speech in the context of the media’s apparent delight claiming the resources boom is over:

“Don’t be misled. As the secretary to the Treasury, Dr Martin Parkinson, argued last week, it was always misleading to think the resources boom, being just another boom, would soon enough bust, leaving us in the lurch with nothing to show but holes in the ground. For a start, it’s a bit soon to be kissing the boom goodbye. Spending on the building of new mines and liquefied gas plants is expected to grow strongly for another year before it starts to fall back. Even then, it will stay way above what we normally see for several more years.”

And yesterday Phil Lowe, deputy governor of the Reserve Bank, pointed out in a speech in Hobart that the benefits of the resources boom had been spread far more widely than expected or reported, at times to the surprise of regulators like himself. He revealed some intriguing data on the impact of the boom on the Australian jobs market which undermines much of the pessimistic reporting about jobs, employment growth and the impact of restructuring.

But while he was speaking, up popped another example of self-interested “research” into offshoring jobs. According to a Fairfax report this morning the research (from the National Institute of Economic and Industry Research) claimed 700,000 to a million jobs could move offshore between now and 2042 — that is in the next 30 years. Curiously The SMH omitted this paragraph from the website report yesterday: “The NIEIR report, which updates a 2008 report undertaken for the Finance Sector Union and the Australian Services Union, said that jobs with a heavy reliance on information technology and routine work was under the most threat.”

You’d have to wonder why then it was not included today, because it tells us that the report from the NIEIR was prepared for one of the strongest critics of offshoring, the two major unions in the finance and private sector for white collar employees.

It was unfortunate timing for the union campaign and the NIEIR that the report on offshoring of jobs that their utterings came as the Reserve Bank’s Phil Lowe revealed in his speech in Hobart that the Australian labour market is far more resilient and stronger than anyone had expected. In fact elsewhere in the Fairfax business pages, the widespread benefits of the boom, as outlined by Dr Lowe, were reported.

Lowe not only showed how the actual level of unemployment was much lower across more of the country than had been reported, but job creation since 2007, when the latest boom accelerated, was far more dynamic and widespread as well.

“Since 2007, around 300,000 net new jobs have been created in the health care sector, 200,000 jobs in professional and scientific services and around 130,000 jobs in each of the mining and education sectors. In contrast, the number of manufacturing jobs has declined by around 70,000, and the number of jobs in retailing is largely unchanged.

“The latest data available from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show that at February 2012 around 2.3 million people — almost one-fifth of the total number of employed people — were newly employed, having been in their job for less than a year. While a little under half of these were starting work for the first time or were not previously working, 1.2 million people moved from one job to another. And this is in a year when the net growth in published employment was just 23,000.”

All up, Lowe’s figures tells us that since 2007 around 760,000 new jobs have been created and 70,000 lost. Now I reckon that’s quite amazing, and it’s a figure you rarely read (if at all) in the mainstream media or the ABC. This job creation has been going month after month while the media have been reporting boom, doom and stasis.

Notice the loss of relatively few jobs in the manufacturing and none in retailing, yet many new jobs in health care fitting the aging of the population, jobs in professional and scientific services as a spin-off from the resources boom, and the rise of smarter, clever companies. You can bet that the 260,000 jobs in education and mining are better paying than the 70,000 in manufacturing, as are the 200,000 in professional services.

Lowe’s data also tells us the economy and labour market is far more flexible and responsive to changes such as demand and demographics than employers, unions and governments admit or even know. The data also underlines the economic illiteracy of the Australian Customs Service proposing to place tariffs on steel imports to protect a company like BlueScope and its workforce.

Peter Fray

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